It was going to be so easy. A nice straightforward, clearly marked path up to the top of Cheviot, down the other side and up to the summit of Hedgehope, the two highest hills in Northumberland. It was forecast to be er, slightly windy. With a little bit of rain at the beginning. But other than that, no problems forecast. What could possibly go wrong on our first training walk for the National Three Peaks challenge in May 2021?
The walk was going to be just me and Sophia, both eager to get our walking boots up and out into the hills. We met at Langleeford at the bottom of Cheviot, and immediately compared emergency kit. The Cheviot hills are subject to the wild whims of the Northumbrian weather, and a glorious sunny day can turn into a foggy rain soaked mess without warning in a matter of minutes. People often take the safety of the hills for granted, but all it takes is for a tricky stumble to result in a broken ankle, and a fun walk can turn into a dangerous situation, a walker lying injured exposed to the elements until rescue arrives. Luckily Sophia and I were both very well prepared, almost comically so - between us we had a two-man emergency tent, a bivvy bag, two head torches, map, compass, first aid kit, two whistles, changes of clothes, hot drinks, food, mobile phones and our trusty bobble hats. Sophia outdid me on the bobble stakes, with a giant bobble the size of a puppy‘s head.
We set off on the path, making our way up to Cheviot, with an insane head wind increasing in ferocity with every step, the rain battering us but not dampening our spirits. Mothers out on the hills child free are prone to random bursts of hysterical laughter it would seem, the liberation a little overwhelming at times! We made our gradual way up to the summit without much ado, the rain disappearing and the sun starting to appear. Just as we joked that we had the hills to ourselves, the only people mad enough to venture out at 8am on a Sunday in the wild wind, we saw two trail runners reach the summit at exactly the same time. Obligatory photos and then we set off along the stony path and made our way down the other side of Cheviot, the huge Hedgehope hill in our vision as the wind buffeted us from every side.
It turned out that the walk up Hedgehope was not as straightforward as the map suggested, huge craters appearing in the heather front of us, dark sucking mud at every step. Both of us plunged into mud up to our knees, battling up and down the sides of the craters with increasing frustration. Although we did laugh at our predicament too, we went so slowly that on checking my garmin watch I realised it was tracking us a stationary. After what seemed an eternity, we made it to the summit, whereupon I was summarily blown into a fence. Graceful as always. On the way up I ventured to have a wee...all I shall say is that the wind has an alarming effect upon one’s aim....
As always, at this moment my bag chose to fill up, with what I wasn’t sure, but I was hoping against hope that it was just wind as a galeforce wee was bad enough...Usual panic beginning to build, searching about for somewhere relatively wind free to check my bag, which is as difficult as it sounds when you are on the top of an exposed Northumbrian hill. As we made our careful way down the hill I spotted a small patch of stones which were sheltered....bag checked...just wind after all. The relief was immense!
We had been walking for some time by now, and one of us (I won’t say who. SOPHIA, IT WAS SOPHIA) pointed out a short cut to the farmhouse where we would cross the river and rejoin the road to our car. I looked at the tiny indistinct path, and then to the clear path we had marked out on the map. A short cut is very rarely a short cut...and so it turned out. However, I was also keen to get back by this point, and thought it should be fairly simple. We tramped across the field, an arduous task through the heather and the bogs, and eventually made it to a small wood, which led down to the farm. We walked down to the farm through some bracken and stopped. Nah, not through the farmyard, it must be to the left. Off we went, our little wander turning into an epic 2 hours of tramping through a wood to get to the riverside, trying in vain to get to a bridge. Up and down we went, aware that dark would be falling within the next couple of hours. We headed back to the path near the farm but realised that was taking us away from the river. A final decision was made to go directly down to the river and wade through if necessary. This we did, thrashing our way through bracken higher than our heads, which at one point almost necessitated us both using our whistles to find each other. At last, covered in bracken, shattered and getting a little anxious, we made it to the river‘s edge, whereupon we took off our boots and walked slowly through the freezing water. I clambered out and up the muddy slope, grasping onto bracken to lever myself up. I started laughing. This was insane! Ridiculous! People do this walk ALL THE TIME and don’t end up lost in woods and wading through rivers! How on earth had we got it so wrong!
Sophia joined me and we arrived on the road we had been aiming for - the only road in the valley. It was a dirt road though, not a tarmac road which was what we had driven in on. Just as we were getting extremely confused, we saw two trail runners, who pointed out that the track turned into the tarmac road about a mile away. Off we went, about 45 minutes before sunset, and it wasn’t long before we saw the glorious, huge stone built bridge across the river...just on the other side of the farmyard we had stood near over two hours before. Two hours. TWO HOURS of woods, and bracken and river wading. You have to laugh!!
We had left home that day at 7:30am, and arrived back again at 5:30pm....made the most of the daylight hours shall we say. We had a great laugh, some real giggles and we definitely tested out all of our equipment. I wouldn't change what we did that day, I love it when things go a bit pear shaped and you can laugh about it. Afterwards.
We can only get better.....surely....